CTIA Fall 2004
Report from the fall CTIA trade show in San Francisco. News fron Audiovox, PalmOne, i-mate, Wherify, and Sony Ericsson.
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Every spring, the CTIA trade organization holds a well-known trade show for the U.S. mobile phone industry. Every fall, they also hold a smaller show, called CTIA Wireless I.T. & Entertainment. The name of the show describes the official focus, but because of the timing, many companies use the show as an opportunity to launch regular consumer and phone products as well. This year's show was in San Francisco.
Some of the most exciting announcements at the show came from Audiovox. Their first EV-DO handset was the most significant. The CDM-8940 has the full list of features you'd expect for a high-end phone, including dual 262,000-color TFT displays, a 1.3 megapixel camera, and a miniSD memory card slot.
EV-DO is the star of the show, though. The technology provides broadband data rates, suitable for high-quality streaming video and downloadable music. The phone can also provide high-speed connectivity for a laptop via USB. Audiovox has announced EV-DO PDA devices previously, but this is the company's first phone with the technology. LG's VX-8000 is the only other such phone announced for the U.S. market to date. Both phones are expected to be available for Verizon Wireless early next year.
Also on display for the first time, although not yet officially announced, was the CDM-8700, Audiovox's first slide-style model. The features are fairly standard for a modern mid-range CDMA phone, including a VGA camera with flash, 1xRTT data, 262,000-color TFT display, speakerphone, and voice dialing.
Other notable models being displayed included a version of the CDM-8910 for Sprint, and the CDM-9200, a stylish little clamshell phone with dual color displays and a VGA camera.
More notable from a corporate standpoint was Audiovox's first phones manufactured by UTStarcom, the company that is currently in the process of acquiring Audiovox Communications.
The lineup isn't terribly ambitious, but that's to be expected for a company entering a whole new market. The all-clamshell lineup consists of an entry-level model (CDM-7000), a dual-color-display model (CDM-7100), and a camera phone (CDM-7200). All three include BREW, WAP 2.0, voice dialing, and speakerphone.
According to Audiovox, the company plans to continue offering phones from multiple manufacturers even after the UTStarcom buyout is complete.
One small side-note is that Audiovox seems to be breaking from its previous model numbering scheme. It used to be that the 7000 series was made by Sharp, the 8000 by Curitel, and the 9000 series denoted Toshiba. But the new 9200 is made by a smaller no-name manufacturer - not Toshiba - and of course the new 7000 series are made by UTStarcom rather than Sharp.
The Audiovox PPC-6600 is essentially Microsoft's answer to the Treo 650. Both devices feature high-res displays, QWERTY keyboards, Bluetooth, VGA cameras, and a full PDA OS with extensive e-mail capabilities, including Microsoft Exchange compatibility. Both devices will also be offered in CDMA versions by the end of the year with Sprint.
The PPC-6600 is actually manufactured by HTC, where it is known by the code-name "Harrier". HTC also makes the identical-looking "Blue Angel" for GSM networks, which will come to the U.S. as the Siemens SX66 for Cingular.
The PPC-6600 (Harrier) and SX66 (Blue Angel) differ primarily in high-speed data capability. The PPC-6600 has CDMA EV-DO hardware, while the SX66 has Wi-Fi instead.
Although Sprint will initially ship the PPC-6600 without EV-DO functionality, Sprint officials confirmed that the hardware technically will support it, and that a software upgrade to enable EV-DO is technically possible. Sprint is not committing to releasing any such upgrade, however. Sprint has announced plans to launch EV-DO throughout most of its network over the next year.
Also on display was the Audiovox SMT-5500, another HTC-built device previously known only by the code name "Vivida". This CDMA Windows Mobile Smartphone has a very unique sliding design.
Settling an earlier controversy when rumors of this device first leaked out, Audiovox claims the 5500 will include Bluetooth. Other features include a VGA camera, 400 MHz Intel "Dalhart" processor, and an SD memory card slot supporting SDIO.
Although the SMT-5500 has been spotted elsewhere with a Verizon logo, Audiovox claims no carrier has yet committed to offering the phone. There are also rumors Sprint is considering the 5500.
Earlier this year, Digit Wireless anounced that Telus (a Canadian carrier) would offer an LG phone with Digit's unique FasTap text keypad. At the spring CTIA show, Digit was showing off a prototype - a modified LG 5450. But this week, Digit was quietly showing off the final model for Telus - the LG VX-6190 - which will be the first commercial phone with a FasTap keypad.
As the model number would suggest, the VX-6190 is based closely on the VX-6100 that recently shipped with Verizon in the U.S. While the keypad is the key difference, the 6190 is also distinguished by a sleeker, mirrored outer design.
The FasTap keypad is pretty self-explanatory. It adds letter keys in-between the numbers.
Usability is good, especially for text. Those with large fingers might find it awkward to press the number keys; to avoid the raised letter keys, I found I wanted to use my fingertips or fingernails more than I might otherwise. But fortunately, the intelligent FasTap technology lets you simply mash the number keys without worrying about hitting the letters - if you do, it knows what you meant to type. It feels a little weird, but it works great.
Telus is expected to launch the VX-6190 in Canada in a few weeks.
One of the worst-kept secrets in the industry over the last few months has been the new Treo from PalmOne. This highly-anticipated device is intended to be more of an evolutionary update than a whole new model. The goal according to PalmOne was to address common complaints and focus on perfecting the already well-received Treo 600.
The main new features of the Treo 650 compared its predecessor are Bluetooth and a dramatically higher-resolution display. The Treo 600 had a very low-resolution display for a modern PDA - 160 x 160 pixels. Most new mid-range phones have better displays. Fortunately the 650 completely solves that issue with a really great 320 x 320 pixel display.
Most of the other improvements are smaller tweaks, such as a revamped keyboard and a better camera.
The new keyboard has much better backlighting, larger keys, and easier-to-read letters. PalmOne also re-arranged a few keys. The home and menu keys are now at the top, closer to the other navigation keys. This improves one-handed operation dramatically, and leaves room for a dedicated "alt" key and a second shift key at the bottom. More intuitive "talk" and "end" keys have also been added.
Some people might be disappointed by the lack of a megapixel camera. In the press conference, PalmOne executives defended the decision by pointing out that most current megapixel modules either produce poor-quality images in low light, or are too large to fit inside the compact Treo. Instead, they opted for a much higher-quality VGA model than the one in the 600, especially in low-light situations.
The connector on the bottom of the phone has also changed. The new connector is the same as other palmOne models, so the Treo 650 should be able to share the same cradles, data cables, etc. with devices such as the new PalmOne T5.
Other improvements include a revamped "home" screen. The new screen is highly configurable, with options for displaying upcoming the next calendar event at the top, and several shortcuts at the bottom.
In the Bluetooth department, the Treo 650 supports all major profiles, including headset, handsfree, OBEX (object exchange), sync (via serial), and DUN (dial-up networking, for laptops).
The Sprint version will not ship with the DUN profile accroding to PalmOne, but Sprint executives explained that this was a temporary technical situation, and an update will add this feature in the future.
Taiwanese manufacturer HTC (High Tech Computer) is the world's largest original design manufacturer (ODM) of Microsoft Windows Mobile devices. They have produced every major iteration of the popular SPV and XDA devices for Europe. As an ODM, their devices always bear the logo of other companies. Nevertheless, among industry insiders and Windows Mobile devotees, HTC is a very powerful and well-respected brand.
Typically, HTC devices are brought to market by carriers. So when no U.S. carrier picks up a particular HTC model, it can sometimes be hard for U.S. consumers to locate, and a version for GSM 850 networks might not even be produced. For fans of Windows Mobile, this can sometimes be frustrating, as was the case recently with devices like the HTC Himalayas (XDA II) and Voyager (SPV E200).
That's where companies like i-mate come in. They bring HTC devices to market separately from the carriers, offering them directly to consumers.
The exciting news is that i-mate is now officially expanding to the U.S.; they're currently in the process of establishing a U.S. headquarters in California. They will be trying to forge relationships with U.S. carriers, and also offering HTC devices to consumers through more direct channels.
The first two devices i-mate will be marketing in the U.S. are the SP3i and the JAM. The SP3i is a Windows Mobile Smartphone, while the JAM is based on the more PDA-oriented Windows Mobile for Pocket PC (Phone Edition) platform. Each device represents the smallest hardware available for their respective platform.
The JAM features a megapixel camera, Bluetooth, and internal antenna. It is also known in Europe as the MDA Compact, and by the HTC code-name "Magician". i-mate claims they will be the exclusive distributor of this HTC model in the U.S. - you won't see this device released with an Audiovox or Siemens logo.
The SP3i is the Smartphone of the duo. It's very similar to the Audiovox SMT-5600 recently released by AT&T Wireless. The differences are simply different styling, and a more traditional joystick design. Other than that, the devices are practically the same. The SP3i is known as the SDA in Europe, and goes by the HTC code-name "Feelers".
Like the JAM, the SP3i is about as small as it gets for a device with these features.
One of the most unique devices on display on the show floor was the GPS Locator Phone from Wherify. This incredibly tiny device is actually a fully-functioning GSM phone and remote GPS receiver all in one, yet is smaller than just about any standalone GSM phone or GPS receiver on the market.
The device is not designed to compete with standard mobile phones. It's a niche product designed for parents to give to kids, or for older users who only need a phone for emergencies.
With that in mind, the phone doesn't include a full keypad. Instead, there are simply several speed-dial buttons on the front, which only dial pre-set numbers. It's about as no-frills as it gets.
The Locator Phone comes in two versions: one with five speed-dial buttons and a small display, and a simpler model with just two big speed-dial buttons.
The speed-dial numbers, as well as an optional list of allowed incoming callers, are configured remotely via the password-protected web site and specially-coded SMS messages. This allows parents to keep their kids from using the device for casual calls to friends, etc.
The web site is also where location info is retrieved. So for example, if a parent has given the device to a child, the parent can log in to the web site at any time to see their child's exact location.
The GPS Locator Phone is expected to be available in the first quarter of 2005 for about $150, with service starting at $15 per month. The device will work with any GSM carrier, regardless of whether they have deployed E-911 or location-based services. Dual-band GSM versions will be available for both North America and Europe / Asia, with a CDMA version expected in mid-2005.
Sony Ericsson announced two new devices around the same time as the CTIA show: the J200 and T290.
Although the J200 is tri-band, it is designed as an entry-level phone for Asia only. It doesn't have basic features that American carriers would require, such as MMS.
The T290, or more specifically the T290a variant, will come to the U.S. as a replacement for the T237. But there aren't any feature differences compared to the T237. It's just a new color (black).
The Sony Ericsson Z500 was announced back in March, but now it's finally close to hitting shelves. Cingular has already mentioned it in at least one press release.
It's a mass-market phone with serious features, such as dual color displays, a VGA camera with video capture, EDGE high-speed data, and streaming video playback.
Style is also a key element, though. The Z500 has changeable faceplates, and like the Z600, Sony Ericsson will be releasing a whole line of designer faceplates to accessorize with. Some of the first designs are shown above. An internal antenna and thin profile also contribute to the style factor.
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While the Windows Mobile 2003 SE OS is nice, it is sparse and has many "issues" still. I'd love to extend the life of my rather large investment by paying for an OS upgrade rather than a new phone in 9 months.
New VX8000 Info?
Why no analog?
I'd be willing to spend money on this device if they just added analog to it. After all this is the primary reason why I still stick with Verizon. It really sucks not to have analog roaming when you need it.
no samsung ?!?!?!?
Audiovox, Nokia, and Kyocera were the major companies on the show floor.
LG wasn't there at all.
Siemens, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, and Motorola were at one of the press events, but only Sony Ericsson was showing of...
Part two on the way...
When are the events scheduled for 2005?
Sprint Pulling a Verizon, with bluetooth.
Now imagine it untethered with bluetooth.
I love the CDMA networks with all my heart but the proprietaty bs has to stop soon.
The going rate for unlimited high-speed data on your laptop is $80/month. T-Mobile is the only top-tier carrier who offers laptop access for less, and they're also the o...